Out on the whiny windy moors

Well dear reader I am back .............. back from a great long weekend and some brilliant hiking across the hills and vales of a wet and windy Dartmoor.

Yep, out on the whiny windy moors, that good ol Kate Bush song Wuthering Heights was on a mental loop playing in my head most of the time and was very fitting. The weather was very much the windy wet weather you'd expect on the moors - sadly the snow had melted so it was sodden under foot but alas such is life.

According to a local (bit of a nutter in my book) the weather was balmy - as 70 mph winds buffeted me around the Tors ...........nothing worse than being buffeted around the Tors I might add! Ok I may be slightly exaggerating as the winds never got that strong (but close) the weather was however not something to be taken lightly and easily bad enough to kill the unprepared .... Mountain exposure is a real and constant danger people and I point this out just in case my one reader decides to pop down the Moors in a pair of shorts and a snazzy cotton T-shirt ............ and yes I even saw one chappy hiking in Jeans so not really that much of a stretch.

Anyway I digress - the weather was typically Moorish - typically February and typically British!

Now here's a interesting observation, as I have a Scandinavian reader somewhere, the British moorland strikes me as very similar to the Swedish or Norwegian Fjells - in fact the thought struck me that a Fjellduken's camouflage would blend in very well around the Moor's hilly rocky Tors. Wikipedia even states --( A fell (from Old Norse fell, fjall, "mountain"[1]) is a high and barren landscape feature, such as a mountain range or moor-covered hills. The term is most often employed in Scandinavia, the Isle of Man, parts of northern England, and Scotland. )

So there you go - I could have been hiking across Sarek just as easily as Dartmoor. Just putting that thought out there ............. LOL! The rocks themself (i am reliably told) are Granite and are also made up of Feldspar (a soft component) and Mica and Quarts (hard components) they were formed 300 million years ago and for 50 million years have been on the surface of the moors ..............

So the trip itself was great, hiked across several Tors (theres are the rocky outcrops at the top of hills) following a simple route out and back again - the weather wasnt hard on the navigating, no fog or low cloud and on the Saturday we even had, dare I say it SUN! Yes, Sun! I noticed several locals, panicked at this fiery orbs glow, sacrificing sheep and other unlucky animals to their dark Moorland Gods in the vain hope of warding off evil spirits but personally I found it a pleasant change - and I certainly enjoyed my squished corned dog (corned beef btw we English dont eat Dogs not knowingly anyway but what the food industry do is a mystery to us all) and sweet pickle sandwich all the more for its charming company.

A odd fact about the trip was that I had badly underestimated how much water to carry - I have no idea why as I usually plan for 2 litres a day per day but friday night the well simply ran dry. Fortunately the rain just kept on falling so I rigged up my basha to collect the water, and a few pine needles too (yep was in a pine forest) within a couple of hours I had 3 litres of water - all of which I boiled for those who are interested but in honesty it wasnt necessary. Had the weather been dry that might have proven a costly over sight however the Moors are disected by streams and the forestery block where I was on this occasion at least had a nice lake at the bottom of it. Water is heavy but worth its weight in gold when your thirst.

Apart from this everything else was ok - food wise it was fantastic and I compliment the chef ......... I reheated it expertly lol ......... One item that did impress me again was my ld LK70 that sack just seems to have grown onto me, its so comfortable I almost forget I'm wearing it. I'm planning on doing Mont Blanc or the TMB for my 50th birthday and keep thinking of buying a new sack but honestly I really cant see the point in changing it .......... A DILEMMA for another day.

OK so enough waffle - in summary Dartmoor is great, weather is Moorland weather i.e plan your trip for the season that suits you - there are wild camping areas interestingly so for the hiker this makes things a little more interesting both in the logistics and the route and always a lot more flexibility if tempered with common sense.

Personally, I will definately be back on the Moors and look forward to seeing them in every season.

I hope you enjoy my ramblings here ............ and if your still awake - heres a few pretty pictures ............

My plan isnt to write a travelog - the route, I dont plan to share as I'd like to use it again and dont fancy sharing any of my stealth camps with others, all I will say is Dartmoor has a lot of potential for the outdoorsman and bushcrafter - the only way to experience it is to get out there yourself and explore.


Stealth Camping - part 3 - locating camp

At the moment I am planning for a wintery trip to Dartmoor, surely one of the least friendly places to visit in February. As such this, and any trip for that matter, deserves proper planning.

And this brings me onto the subject of stealth camping as on this trip myself and my hiking companion will be bashaing up and going into stealth mood - to a lesser or greater extent. 

Stealth camp north downs way 

So how do we go about locating a good site for a stealth camp? Well a simple rule of thumb is look for somewhere as far away from people as possible ........ but its rarely that simple, indeed on one outing three of us once camping for the night in a birch wood located between a golf course and a housing estate! Another time myself and Steve got our heads down in a strip wood barely 100 meters wide between houses.

With that said the first thing I always do is a recce - time spent in recce is time seldom wasted, if your able to visit the area brilliant - pop down and do a walk through to get a feel for the lay of the land. Hike the trails there and see if you can evaluate how much human traffic there is. Look for the boots and paw prints of dog walkers - are the trails and paths over grown or well worn? Also consider your location from a on lookers prospective how easily would you be seen? Usually site location is a compromise the ideal site doesnt exist all we can do is make the best of what we have to work with.

Stealth camp beside a wall with a road the other side - would you know that we were there?

If we can find a location thats big enough for our camp - not close or over looked by foot paths and which offers our material needs (firewood and water) then we are lucky.

If we cant visit our potential site then a map recce is our next option. This can be done in advance ie before a trip, or as often happens with me while hiking during the day as we near the end of the hike. On a map recce I look for several things, firstly a decent sized lump of woodland. Secondly its location, this being as far from any property as possible. I look at the access points, is there one or twenty paths leading in and out? Also us the OS map to check out the foliage ........ is your wood decidious?? In winter it will be a bare arse place so better to find a pine wood or similar for example. Spend time on the map it will tell you a lot but also use modern media too - google earth the location as this will give you a birds eye view but be aware of the date of the image taken. The last thing I usually do on the map is to look for the largest clump of trees and then work out the very centre of its mass -- take a grid reference for this, if you have a gps its a handy device to help you locate the spot on the ground when surrounded by trees and thick foliage 

Winter stealth camp - little foliage for cover.

Then move out and hike in - as you tab in be aware of other potential sites you pass - more than once I have arrived at a good location to find it occupied or worse gone (all the trees cut down) - as you may need to go back to one of these.

Upon reaching the potential site, if you havent been there before, its advisable to do a clearance patrol. This literally means a walk around the perimeter of the site. Here we are to be mind fall of the above but we can also read the land and assess its potential. One way to do this is to circle the outer edge of the site/woods and then in ever decreasing circles slowly make your way in. 

Now if I am happy I will usually drop my pack close to a potential spot and have a little walk around assessing the site. Generally I aim to hit camp with an hour or two of day light at least for this reason.

If all goes well you will have located a site that is hidden from view, comfortable to use and with a good supply of fire wood and access to a decent water source and if you follow the advise thus far given you should be able to set up your camp without incident.

In our next post we will talk about camp set up and a few of the do's and dont's of stealth camping.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and thanks for your continued support ................

  Above camp in open - exposed to elements and over view etc - below camp hidden in trees no overview and protection from the elements as a bonus.


Bushraft guru's .......... double standards or just greedy?

Ray Mears has been dumped from a 10,000 pound gig for bad mouthing caravans.

Does this incident highlight the double standards and greed of someone like Ray?

Morally, if you hated caravans you would turn down a gig at a show of caravaning enthusiasts wouldn't you?

Its not just Ray either but if someone could lie about something like that what else would they lie about? For example is the whole Myth about his learning, his childhood spent tracking foxes built on falsehoods? Dave Canterbury did similar, so why not Bear Grylls or one/many of the self proclaimed experts running schools?

I am sure there are many good and honest guys out there too - I like to think I was one when I ran courses etc but it is a shame for the individual and his fans as well as for the subject/hobby as a whole when something like this comes to light.



The shemagh

Had someone ask me how to wear the shemagh like an arab ............. heres how


New Knife ................

I am a very lucky man. I have made some great friends over the years and both received and given some great gifts.

One such gift I received many years ago was a blade blank from my Finnish friend Perkele. The blade, I believe, was one he made when he was learning to forge and it has always been my intention to put a set of scales on it - but due to the trials of life I never found time.

However, thanks to the ever hungry mind and crafty hands of my good friend Paul of Waldgiest I got the chance to get a set of scales put on. Paul, who has gone from spoons to all manner of wood craving, has recently started making handles for stick tangs (http://thewoodlandway.blogspot.co.uk/) and mentioned he fancied trying a full tang ................ well guess who had one handy!!

So dutifully I posted it off and he did his magic. My criteria was simple - do what you want. Trusting to his ability 100% and this paid off. He, being over critical is conscious of any and all minor faults. I however think these add character and give my knife a rustic look I really do like.

I definitely owe a BIG THANK YOU to both guys and can not wait to get this beautiful tool into the woods to see what she can do.

The knife is yet to be tested, so a follow up blog will be in order, but I have sharpened her up and she has taken a razor edge.

I will tell you more once I have had a play for now here is some porn ...........


Stealth Camping part 2 .............. How (not to be seen)

So in part one of this series we considered the reason WHY we stealth camp and it was decided that this was due to land owners not allowing access to their land, be it due to greed, misunderstanding or maybe even fear - the reasons can be as different as the people who own the land we want to move across.
We can of course practice stealth camping on land we have access to also - again there are many reasons for this - fun, nature watching or maybe even traditionalism or re-enacting of the past. As I have said before I quite often image a scenario where I am a frontiersmen and everyone else are hostile natives - it amuses me to do so.
Whatever the reason for us wishing to camp and not be seen/make our presence known the skill set required isn't really that complicated to learn as long as we can apply simple rules and some common sense.
Firstly lets consider the skills of the ultimate stealth campers of modern times - the military. As a soldier myself I can honestly say that many times over the years we lay up in hides, RV's and various OP's etc often in hostile territory and often very close to civilian properties or towns but always undetected by the local population (when we wanted to be). Even in training, bearing in mind we were training for war when "fulltac" we followed a hard routine designed to make our presence invisible to any enemy forces.
Now I am not saying that all the skills used by the army are pertinent to stealth camping but they are a good foundation to work from. Of course we do not need to lay snap ambushes or practice all round defence or stand to at first or last light - indeed as a civilian acting overly cautious or stealthily we might even be viewed with suspicion but in this part of the series I want to highlight some military skills that should be at the back of our mind when we pack our gear, hike and/or decided on a camp site.
Ok, so the first thing we need to consider is why we might be seen - SHAPE, SHINE, SILHOUTTE, SOUND, MOVEMENT and COLOUR, one or more of these will be what give us away. The more of these we combine the more likely we will be seen. For example a square tarp, being an unnatural shape in nature, will stand out against a back ground of round and twisted foliage. If the square tarp is black the difference will be more pronounced. If it is Orange it will catch even the eye of those not looking for it let alone those who are. So lets consider the above.
SHAPE - as mentioned there is very little in nature that is angular, most camouflage materials are designed to break up or soften such obvious things. So where possible we should avoid erecting shelters that look like little boxes ........... if we cant do this a leaf can be taken out of the militaries book, Basha's (shelters made from poncho's) are never to be any higher than 18" above the ground, this usually means your roof is lower than the surrounding foliage and will not be sky lined or similar. Shape also includes are gear and ourselves too so keep that in mind.
Shape and shine
SHINE - maybe this is the most obvious thing as it doesn't take much imagination to realise that a reflective surface will catch the eye. So with this in mind muted and natural colours are always wisely used. But shine can also mean light - it is odd to me how little light discipline civilians have in the woods. It took my usual travelling companion some time and much moaning from myself to learn good night discipline. Good kit husbandry can help with light discipline as 90% of the time we tend to need to use torches to find things or move stuff around etc. If we have everything packed away except our sleeping gear before last light (for example) then we will a, know where everything is. B, not lose anything and not need to use our torch to find things. Also using a torch ruins our natural night vision so try to not use a torch and use your night vision instead - if you need to try and see a object better at night try looking slightly off to one side of it you will be amazed how well that works. As I will cover later ideally we will only get our bedding out just before last light and as such this is when we pack the rest away. Also consider your fire - the light from a fire can shine through the woods a considerable distance. It is no accident that there are so many accounts of various people from mountain men and ancient warriors not lighting fires at night for fear of giving away there positions. I am not saying don't have a fire, most of the time when I am out I have one for sure. All I would say is learn to have a "discreet" one and light it after last light. Indeed there are many fire lays we can use such as the Dakota fire pit that are ideal for this, just remember to use the day light for fire wood gathering! A old saying is "Indian make fire keep warm. White man make fire keep warm gathering fire wood!" - a small fire will do everything a big fire will do generally and it will save you hard work in the process.


SILHOUTTE - again sounds obvious, if you pitch camp on the top of a hill or even in an open field anyone looking up hill will see you against the sky line - this can also be true of the individual going about tasks such as gathering fire wood. A game keeper or the neighbour of a land owner who sees someone where they shouldn't be may report it or investigate it.
SOUND - the military practice doing everything without speaking, these "DRILLS" are practiced over and over again until they become second nature. Whispered conversation is the norm on exercise or deployment to a soldier - soldiers pack their webbing so nothing rattles etc etc - civilians generally don't even tone down their voices which in town are usually raised to be heard over the background noise of cars and TV's etc but more than this even the sound of chopping wood can carry a long way so we need to practice or approach out bushcraft differently too. I remember hearing a story about Jed Smith (a famous mountain man) who reportedly would only fire a single shot when hunting, the reason supposedly was that the Indians could track down a man if he fired a second shot! Another thing people seldom realise is how far sound carries at night - like light sound discipline is a good habit to get into.
MOVEMENT - like silhouette is all about avoiding doing things that will catch the eye. Consider the fact that we are predators by nature and our eyes are forward facing as such we often rely on our peripheral vision to alert us to things we cant see - this means that someone not even looking for or at you will be attracted to you or your camp if they detect movement especially sharp, fast or unnatural movements.
COLOUR - again as mentioned colours can aid us in rescue but on the flip side they will give us away if we are trying to avoid being seen. Most animals don't see colour but we humans do and in stealth camping muted colours are best. Also consider the fact that a green tarp will look out of place if erected on a sandy beach. Nessmuk says that field grey is the best colour for the hunter and certainly this was deemed so by several armies. One thing to consider also when we consider colour is camouflage, dressing like a soldier or a hunter when hiking in the local woods might just catch the eye of someone too. Temper all your kit with common sense army surplus gear is good to use but try not to dress head to toe in DPM or flecktarn if you can help it.
Light and colour
OK so there is something to think about - if we start be practicing how not to be seen then we can work on how to camp with minimum impact of our environment and on the lives of those creatures around us be they bird, beast or man!
In the next part we'll consider how we go about locating and setting up a camp.
This will likely be in 2015, so with Christmas and the New Year fast approaching I will also take the opportunity to thank all my readers for taking the time to read my ramblings and forgive me my poor grammar and spelling. I hope that in so doing I have shared not only my love of the subject but also some gems of knowledge to enhance your outdoor lives. This year has been a good year for bushcraft and a turning point has been reached thanks to people like Dave Canterbury, that turning point has been the move back toward more traditional bushcraft.
I have also noticed that many of the bushcrafters I admire, particularly on you tube, now are not only making more of their own gear but are also proudly hunting out bargains - a positive step away from the commercial fast buck bushcraft industry that was so prevalent in the 90's and early noughties.  
All of which gives me hope for the future of our hobby and the skills we cherish.

So with this in mind I wish you all a very happy Christmas and the best of all things in a healthy, wealthy and happy New Year.


Stealth camping part one - why?

This, dear reader, will be a short post (thank God you say!)
The reason for my writing is simple, it is merely to outline what I feel pertinent with regards to stealth camping.
Unless someone can prove otherwise I believe I was instrumental in coining the phrase back at the end of the 20th century. Not that that matters although I thought I'd point it out in case someone trade marks the words (lol) ....... seriously with the way these forums are these days who knows what their up to?
And with a few of the lesser known schools out there now offering courses in stealth camping (yes they do!) I thought I'd write a brief piece too.
So why stealth camp??
Well, I don't know about my overseas friends but here in UK every square inch of land is owned by someone and usually that someone isn't inclined to share it. Now this I can understand in some ways as some places are SSSI or similar, others are used as businesses from farming to lumber etc ..... but a lot of these areas aren't. A lot of wooded areas are owned by faceless corporations or universities for example and as such are never used or managed in anyway.
Those that aren't, those whose owners work them in someway or have other interests in them are usually protected from strangers because the owners (often rightly) fear that trespassers will damage something and in the process probably cost them money having the clean up a mess or repair something.
Sadly this is a common fear among land owners and one not in a small part caused by them. How so I hear you say? Well, generations of banishing the common man from the land has lead to the present  progeny being so far removed from the field and stream as to seeing them as almost alien landscapes, landscapes void of xbox or other forms of entertainment and as such fit for little more than destruction or to be used as dumping grounds.
Worse in some ways are those bushcrafters or outdoorsy types who half understand the importance of a outdoor life, who actively seek the forests seclusion but who, possibly through no fault of the their own don't understand the etiquette and the rules of its usage and as such drop littler, damaged plants and trees or light fires and leave ugly fire rings filled with burnt beer cans and other rubbish. Take for instance the humble dog walker who instinctively knows walking Rover through the woods is good for both hound and master and as such will make the pilgrimage. Yet let Rover do his business and the walker will obediently pick up their poop and then against all logic throw the plastic bag into the bushes - their education tells them the poop is a bad thing but their lack of education doesn't stretch to allowing them to understand that said poop in the woods would break down naturally and join in someway the food chain, so they pick it up like they should on the city street however wrapped as it now is in a plastic time capsule it'll be around a lot longe!!  
We have no right to roam or All mans rights as Scotland or Sweden respectively do, so here in England and Wales we have little choice about how we go about our bushcraft.
Generally, the choices are limited to,
1. Day hikes around the semi-wild woodland areas such as woodland trust or forestry commission lands.
2. Campsites, usually manicure lawned and campfire barred.
3. Going on courses or similar - where we can at least practise our skills.
4. Back yard bushcraft - probably more common than we think, or people let on, especially among our forum friends.
5. Hiking and camping trips above the dry stone wall line although these usually mean little or no trees etc
6. Trips overseas to countries where a better outdoor culture exists.
All the above except maybe 6 usually mean no campfire and little by way of wood to practice fire lighting or carving etc.
Or we are forced to stealth camp.  
Readers may have heard me liken stealth camping to the exploited of the American frontiersmen or mountain men as I find this a simplified but fun way to look at things. We, the bushcrafter, are of course the Daniel Boone or Jim Bridger character while the land owner and their agents, in their many forms, are the native Americans, the savage of classical literature.
For us being discovered and "captured" will probably mean being moved on as trespass is a civil offence and as long as you don't argue and haven't damaged anything then there is no issue that will require the Police or further action. Our frontiersmen on the other hand if captured might at best be faced with slavery at worse be faced with a slow torture or even being roasted over the fire - so the level of danger and the risks taken are slightly different but the thrill and skill are similar.
In part two we will talk about how to stealth camp and a few simple ground rules to abide by ...........key among these is the use of common sense!!